There was never any doubt in Paulette Rivers' mind as she tried to sit still while the trainers mopped up her bloody forehead.
She was going to play.
"We had to win," she stated simply. "Whether you get hurt or not, you got to come back in."
Sporting a Band-Aid over her left eye and about to head to the hospital for a few stitches, Rivers wasn't feeling any pain. Good thing -- her return sparked Rock Hill's 48-34 rally over Fort Mill on Friday.
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"That shows her toughness," Lady Bearcats coach Eric Rollings said. "She's going to have to have some stitches, but she wanted to come back in."
Rivers went down in the first quarter after a collision with the Lady Yellow Jackets' Candace Jones. The injury was bad enough the crowd automatically "oooohed" as soon as Rivers' hand came away from her forehead, but once she got bandaged up, there was no thought of her leaving the gym.
Players play. And Rock Hill (7-11, 3-7 Region 3-AAAA) badly needed her.
"Four of us got hurt," Rivers said. "Doesn't matter. Got to fight through it."
Laquesha Crockett fought through a quad bruise to score 19 points with 11 rebounds and six steals, while Brooke Lucas, celebrating her birthday, returned after taking a fourth-quarter hard check over her right eye. The Lady Bearcats qualified for their own ward at Carolinas Medical Center but emerged from the chaos with a needed win.
"We don't always play pretty," Rollings said, "but we're tough."
The Lady Bearcats held off steadily improving Fort Mill (3-15, 0-9), which only had nine available players, but never backed down. Behind a rain of 3-pointers from Jenna White and ankle-breaking defensive speed from VaMiche McCullough, the Jackets trimmed a 30-19 deficit to 30-24 at the end of the third quarter.
Rivers and Crockett weren't about to give up the win, taking over in the fourth. Shandrice Erby knocked down a 3-pointer before Crockett swiped a ball and fed it to Rivers for a layup. Crockett had two more points in the frame while Erby chipped in another 3-pointer as the Bearcats cruised to the finish.
Although frustrated at again having to put his first region win on hold, Fort Mill coach Todd Bowser credited his team's effort.
"Not too many teams 0-9 in the league and 3-15 still get that from their girls," Bowser said. "We just got ourselves into some foul trouble."
Rivers, wearing a T-shirt wishing Lucas a happy birthday and about to head to the emergency room, accepted her congratulations and again confirmed her game plan.
"I got us in a situation, so I said, 'I got to score,'" she said. "We all got hurt, but we fought to get back in it."
• NORTHWESTERN 37, NATION FORD 36 -- Before Friday night's game against Nation Ford, Northwestern coach John Bramlett instructed his squad to "score first, for once."
The Lady Trojans acted on cue, scoring the first half dozen points of the game. Those six points loomed large as the Lady Trojans eked out a one-point win over the Lady Falcons.
Northwestern hung on for the win despite shooting just 4-for-19 from the free throw line, including 3-14 in the fourth period.
The Lady Trojans obtained their first lead since the opening half, when Gabrielle Bennett scored a deuce on a putback off of a missed foul shot from Najee Thompson. Bennett's score put the Trojans up 32-31 with 2:50 remaining, but the game was far from over.
Nation Ford's Katie Kozlowski took the ball upcourt on its ensuing possession, but Kozlowski was whistled for an offensive foul around halfcourt, much to the chagrin of Lady Falcons coach Scott Barefield.
Not only did the call turn the ball back over to Northwestern, but it sent Kozlowski to the bench for good with her fifth personal foul of the game.
Without Kozlowski, Nation Ford could have succumbed to defeat, but they never showed any quit.
The Lady Falcons battled back without their leader and even took the lead when Katlyn Smith knocked down a 3-pointer with 55 seconds remaining.
Northwestern did not lose focus and took back the lead for good on a Kelia Shelton jumper with just under half a minute to play. Shelton, usually one of Northwestern's top scorers, finished the game with six points, but all came in the final period in key situations.
Nation Ford had two final opportunities to pick up the win, but missed both a layup and the front end of a one-and-one in the final 10 seconds.
Gabrielle Bennett had a huge night for the Lady Trojans. Bennett led all scorers with 13 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.
Mary Kate DuBard scored seven points for Northwestern. DuBard was honored at halftime of the boys game for being named the South Carolina high school cross country runner of the year.
The win sets up a big weekend for DuBard, who is visiting colleges this weekend but rearranged her trip to be back for Monday's make-up game against Fort Mill.
• CHESTER 66, EAU CLAIRE 60 -- The Lady Cyclones got somewhat of a double victory in a key Region 3-AAA home contest against Eau Claire.
The first victory came on the scoreboard, where the Chester girls gained sole possession of third place in the league standings. Then, the second came at the buzzer, when guard Portia Carter drained a turnaround jumper as time expired.
That gave Chester a crucial six-point margin of victory, which gives the Lady Cyclones a tie-breaker advantage over the Lady Shamrocks.
"We had to beat them by more than five," Chester coach Marilyn Milton said, citing that the Lady Shamrocks won the first meeting by five. "We wanted to win, but we did not want our lead to get less than five. We wanted to slow the ball down and force them to foul, but at the same time, we had to be aggressive.
"That shot could be the difference as to who gets third or fourth, and who gets home-court advantage."
Eau Claire and Chester entered in a deadlock for third. Now, the Lady Cyclones have a one-game lead and the all-important tie-breaker.
The contest was very physical as a combined 57 fouls were whistled and five players fouled out.
Leading 37-31 at the half, Chester saw Eau Claire rally for a 38-38 tie early in the third quarter. The Lady Cyclones responded with an 10-2 run as Micah Wessinger nailed a jumper for a 48-40 lead with 2:04 remaining.
• SOUTH POINTE 52, YORK 40 -- South Pointe, the No. 3-ranked team in the state, improved to 20-1 overall and 10-0 in Region 3-AAAA.
The Lady Stallions had to withstand a third-quarter rally from York to get the win.
South Pointe led 24-18 at the half. But York pulled even by scoring the first six points of the second half.
Gina Patton scored on a drive. Tikierra Anderson made a shot from the paint and Erika Shannon nailed a 17-footer to tie the game.
South Pointe coach Brett Childers called a timeout to regroup.
"Ding, ding. York gave us a wake up call," Childers said of York's run. "They came out on all cylinders and took it to us."
South Pointe responded with a 14-2 run to close the quarter. Chelsea Douglas capped the flurry with a pair of 3-pointers.
Douglas finished with a game-best 15 points. De'Brea Barber added 13.
• LANCASTER 36, CLOVER 33 -- In Lancaster, the Lady Bruins overcame a slow start to defeat Clover.
The Blue Eagles had eight first-quarter turnovers, but still led early, thanks to the play of Stephanie Dover. She had six first-quarter points.
Her play and Lancaster's inability to captilize on Clover's mistakes helped Clover lead 12-9 at the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter saw both teams go through extended periods without scoring, and both also continued to turn the ball over. For the first half, Lancaster (11-5, 6-4 Region 3-AAAA) had eight turnovers, and the Blue Eagles had 13.
Lancaster cut the deficit from seven to three at the end of the first half, thanks to two steals and layups from Miteka Trueheart.
Trueheart's strong play continued at the beginning of the the third, helping Lancaster grab its first lead, 19-18, with two more steals and baskets. For the game she had 12 points and eight steals. The Bruins forced 23 turnovers and had 21 steals.
Both teams struggled in the fourth to score. Clover (6-10, 3-6) continued to turn the ball over, but managed to get within one at 29-28, thanks to the play Brittany Jo Brown, who had 10 points. Lancaster pulled away at the end thanks to the play of Tamesha Fletcher and Trueheart.
Clover coach Mike Pearson said his team had too many turnovers. He also said Lancaster was the quickest, most athletic team in the region.
Lancaster coach Ronnie Robinson said his team won ugly. He credited his defense for keying the win.
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